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Kristin Smart cold case: New warrant served at San Pedro home of former classmate

Sheriff's deputies search the home of Paul Flores in February 2020 in connection with the case of missing student Kristin Smart, who vanished from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo in 1996.
(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

For the second time this year, investigators have served a search warrant on the home of a former classmate of Kristin Smart, who disappeared 24 years ago while walking back to her dorm at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.

Sheriff’s detectives from San Luis Obispo County, accompanied by Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies, entered the San Pedro home of Paul Flores early Wednesday morning seeking evidence in the cold case. Flores was the last person to be seen with Smart the night she vanished.

“The Sheriff’s Office is announcing today that it has served another search warrant for specific items of evidence at the Los Angeles County home of Paul Flores,” San Luis Obispo County sheriff’s spokesman Tony Cipolla said. “Flores continues to be a person of interest in the disappearance of Kristin Smart in 1996.”

One warm Friday night in late spring 10 years ago, Kristin Denise Smart and three other young women started walking from their dorms at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.

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In February, investigators served search warrants at Flores’ home in the 900 block of West Upland Avenue and three other locations, in California and Washington state.

As with the earlier warrants, Wednesday’s search was sealed by the court. “This continues to be an active and ongoing investigation. The Sheriff’s Office will not be commenting any further, and no additional information will be released at this time,” Cipolla said.

Multiple sources told The Times the searches are part of an ongoing effort to gather physical evidence, including DNA, that may reveal what happened to the 19-year-old Smart, who disappeared on her way home from an off-campus party May 25, 1996. Flores was seen walking on a path to the college dormitories with her the night she went missing.

Flores was questioned in Smart’s disappearance at the time but has lived in San Pedro for more than a decade while working in Orange County, according to sources.

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The February warrants came after two trucks connected to Flores’ family at the time Smart went missing were found by investigators in another state. Flores was questioned in Smart’s disappearance at the time.

A missing-person flier is still posted on a telephone pole across the street from the home of Paul Flores in San Pedro
A missing-person flier is still posted on a telephone pole across the street from the home of Paul Flores in San Pedro.
(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

Smart’s family has sued Flores in civil court, but he has not been criminally charged. In response to the suit, Flores has denied every allegation raised against him. He invoked his 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination before a grand jury and a civil deposition.

The latest searches mark a new twist in one of California’s most enduring cold case mysteries.

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After Smart disappeared, law enforcement used helicopters, horses and ground-penetrating radar as they hunted for the missing student. She was officially declared dead in 2002, although her body was never found.

In 2016, federal investigators dug up a hillside near the Cal Poly San Luis Obispo campus, looking for remains. They also searched the yard of a home.

Since San Luis Obispo County Sheriff Ian Parkinson took office more than a decade ago, investigators have collected 140 “new items of evidence,” previously searched nine separate locations, served 18 search warrants, resubmitted 37 pieces of evidence from the investigation’s early stages for more current DNA testing and conducted more than 90 face-to-face interviews.

But in the last few months, the investigation has intensified with efforts to track vehicles owned by Flores’ family at the time of Smart’s disappearance.

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FBI agents digging into a hillside half a mile from where Cal Poly San Luis Obispo student Kristin Denise Smart was last seen alive 20 years ago have found “items of interest” in the cold case mystery, authorities said Thursday.

When she disappeared, authorities delayed searching Smart’s dorm room until June 5, 1996, and did not search Flores’ room until June 10, more than two weeks after the woman was last seen.

Flores, who grew up in nearby Arroyo Grande, had moved all of his belongings out of the room by then.

A year before Smart’s disappearance, a female student summoned San Luis Obispo police at 1 a.m. and told dispatchers that Flores, apparently drunk, had climbed a trellis outside her apartment and was refusing to leave her balcony. He was gone by the time officers arrived, police said.

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Times staff writer Priscella Vega contributed to this report.


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